Country gender assessment of agriculture and the rural sector in Nepal

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Executive summary

The Country Gender Assessment (CGA or Assessment) for agriculture and rural development in Nepal was undertaken in 2017 primarily to inform the gender-sensitive country-level planning and programming of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and to contribute to the implementation of FAO’s Policy on Gender Equality at the country level. The CGA explores existing gender relations and inequalities in various agricultural subsectors, their causes, and their impacts on the social and economic development of agriculture and the rural economy. The CGA also provides analysis of crucial policies, strategies, plans and programmes, and highlights key elements for the promotion of gender equality in agriculture and rural development, and for strengthening rural women’s social and economic Empowerment.

In Nepal, agriculture contributes one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) and about three-quarters of the population work in the sector. The role of women in the sector is crucial given that over 80 percent of women are employed in agriculture. Yet, the conditions of employment for the majority of rural women are perilous, since they mainly work as subsistence agricultural producers. Shifts in the traditional division of labour are noted, with many women taking up additional responsibilities such as ploughing and marketing, due to job-related out-migration of rural men. The shortage of labour has also caused the abandonment of rural agricultural land, contributing to a decline in agricultural production. Yet, women’s ownership of land is increasing: female-headed households accounted for about one-fifth of total agricultural landholders in 2011, which represents a rise of 10 percent compared to 2001. This is an important development, as land-ownership rights remain a major constraint for most women.

As per census data, wages in agriculture as well as in non-agriculture sectors have increased more than fourfold over the period 1995-2011 (CBS, 2014c). However, studies have shown a persistent gender-biased wage gap throughout the country that is especially visible in agriculture: women receive wages about 25 percent lower than men, despite legal provisions for equal pay between the sexes. The entrepreneurial potential of women still remains largely untapped. Evidence shows that in Nepal, farms managed by women produce less value per hectare than those managed by men, suggesting the existence of gender inequalities, particularly in accessing, adopting and using technologies. Women and men agricultural producers have often very distinct sets of agricultural knowledge, skills and criteria for choosing crop varieties and performing activities, such as selecting seed, cultivating, harvesting and processing crops. Rural women are constrained by their weak decision-making and bargaining power, triple-work burden (productive, reproductive and community work), limited knowledge about market demand and supply, as well as restricted opportunities for setting-up micro-enterprises and agriculture businesses.

The Assessment highlights gender-biased gaps at policy and legislative levels. For example, at the constitutional level, access to land for agricultural purpose is considered a farmers’ fundamental right; however, women’s ownership of land is still constrained. Overall, gender equality often only exists in laws and policies, and is not adequately implemented on the ground for the benefit of rural women. Findings of the Assessment indicate that government policy is limited to meeting targets of women’s participation in programmes and projects rather than addressing the root causes of gender inequalities in agriculture and the wider rural economy. The Assessment recommends addressing gaps in policy, legislation and implementation through a set of measures, including lobbying for a greater allocation of direct gender-responsive budgeting, concrete recognition of rural women’s contribution to the agricultural sector, addressing root causes of employment inequalities and disparities in rural women’s access to and control over resources, the enhancement of women’s roles in decision-making positions and their competitiveness in a business environment, as well as for the supply and availability of gender-sensitive agriculture-related technologies